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Redwood City police use Twitter for a ride-along

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The Redwood City Police Department recently live-tweeted a police ride-along, posting short updates and video clips of arrests and other incidents.
  • The Redwood City Police Department recently live-tweeted a police ride-along, posting short updates and video clips of arrests and other incidents.

More and more police departments are bringing people along for the ride. But not in the back seats of their cruisers — through social media.

The most recent example on the Peninsula is the Redwood City Police Department, which posted updates to Twitter during a ride-along earlier this month as well as images and even video, Officer Chris Rasmussen said.

"We wanted to give people an idea of what we actually do on a Friday night," Rasmussen said.

Police in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto have held similar events, but Redwood City's 125 posts included posts from Vine, which allows users to capture and share six-second videos.

"Everybody likes videos," Rasmussen said, "and everybody has the attention span to watch a six-second video."

But posting information to social networks on ride-alongs such as Redwood City's — in which the police responded to 12 incidents and made several arrests, including for alleged drunken driving and methamphetamine possession — may have implications that are largely untested. For example, one of the videos the police posted during the event showed a man who appeared to have failed a field sobriety test.

While the department takes a conservative approach and doesn't post names, addresses or the faces of suspects, Rasmussen recognizes that it's a legal gray area.

"This is all pretty groundbreaking stuff, nothing's been challenged," he said.

What's clear is that postings to social networks — and possibly mobile devices, too — are likely considered evidence, and would have to be produced at a trial, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.

"If the evidence existed, we would have to produce it," Guidotti said. "Anyone accused of a crime has the right to see all the evidence, damning or not."

Regardless of the concerns, Rasmussen and the Police Department believe the ride-along was a success, as the department picked up more that 200 Twitter followers.

"We got good questions and good interaction from the community," Rasmussen said. "That's the point."

The department plans to do another virtual ride-along, but Rasmussen isn't exactly sure when. One of the things his five-person team looks to do is innovate in terms of law enforcement's use of social media.